Drones: what the law says


#drones #droneslaw #2018

Philip Swanepoel (BA Law, LLB, LLM)

The use of drones amongst the civilian population in South Africa has increased significantly in recent times (like elsewhere in the world) due to drones becoming more widely available at lower prices. Suppliers now cater for most droning needs and budgets, with drones being available for prices as low as R699 on Takealot. It is thus clear that increasingly people will be able to buy drones for recreational usage and one must thus consider the legalities surrounding this fast-growing hobby.

One must firstly distinguish between the usage of drones for commercial purposes vis a vis recreational purposes. The operation of drones for commercial purposes falls outside of the scope of this article, but readers must take note that one needs to be in possession of a valid air service licence from the Department of Transport, as well as a remote operator’s certificate from the South African Civil Aviation Authority (click here for more information on obtaining the necessarily licences - https://www.htxt.co.za/2015/11/26/how-to-get-a-drone-licence-in-south-africa/).

The rest of this article will briefly discuss the most important restrictions on the recreational use of drones as stipulated in the South African Civil Aviation Authority Remotely Piloted Aircraft System Regulations. The first important restriction which applies to private drone usage relates to where one can fly. You are permitted to fly over your own property, but need permission if you are, even briefly, going to fly over another's property. You must furthermore keep a distance of at least 50 metres between your drone and other people, public roads and buildings. Private drones are furthermore prohibited from flying within a 10 kilometres radius of any airport. It is also important to note that there are other prohibited areas. For instance, no private drones are allowed to be operated in any SAN Park. Other prohibited areas include prisons, police stations, courts of law, nuclear power plants and any national key point.

A further important restriction on the operation of private drones relates to the distance which one is allowed to fly with a drone. The regulations stipulate that the distance is restricted to 500 metres from the pilot. There is, however, a further requirement in this regard. The pilot must maintain a direct line of sight with the drone – 500 metres is thus the utmost limit, but this will decrease if one has bad eye sight or if weather conditions are of such a nature that you cannot maintain a direct line of sight with the drone at 500 metres.

Another important restriction relates to the permitted height at which one is allowed to fly a private drone. The rule in this regard is that a private drone is not allowed to be flown at a height of more than 192 metres above the ground. However, this restriction also has a further requirement, namely that you are not allowed to fly higher than the highest object within a 300 metres radius of the drone. Thus, you are allowed to fly as high as the highest object within 300 metres (this could be trees, towers or buildings), or as high as 192 metres above ground – whichever is lower.

Lastly, it is important to note that the drone which you wish to fly privately may not weigh more than 7 kilograms. Your private drone is also not permitted to carry any passengers or cargo. The regulations also stipulate that you are only allowed to fly during daytime and clear weather conditions.

Complying with the above regulations are of utmost importance for two main reasons. Firstly, these regulations are there to ensure the safety of both yourself (the drone enthusiast) and of the general public who has an interest in drone pilots using their apparatus in a responsible manner. Secondly, failure to comply with these regulations will be a punishable offence, and ignorance of the law will not be an effective defence. It is thus important that you comply with the rules as listed here and that you do independent research in order to ascertain if there are any specific rules and regulations in your area.


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